Read about Joe Tomocik


Berkeley Lake white waterlily naturalized
at Fox Hollow Golf Course

Diary of a Professional
Water Gardener
Summer 2009

by Joseph V. Tomocik
Associate Director and Water Gardens Curator
Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado USA
Click images to enlarge 

Golf Goes Green

The Masters Tournament at the Augusta National golf course and the British Open at Turnberry caught my eye as they wonderfully capture the excitement, magic and beauty of golf. The national and global popularity of golf manifests its importance and universal appeal. The object is to get the ball in the hole with the least shots possible.

That is just the beginning! We are all familiar with champion golf legends Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer…superb golfers, also community leaders, humanitarians and philanthropists. Easily overlooked is the riveting impressive landscaping and precision horticulture synonymous with golf courses. Nostalgic arching bridges, verdant bluegrass fairways, and silky smooth greens catch our imagination and fancy. Stately pines, majestic oaks and meandering creeks add to the palette.  

N. ‘Mayla’ and N. ‘Joey Tomocik’ at
Fox Hollow Golf Course
Soft, undulating fairways are so inviting, uncovering progressively more dramatic views. And let’s not forget the perfectly carved islands of pearly white sand, and mesmerizing water features that often cradle the challenging and sometimes perplexing, superbly groomed greens. Finally, there are the shimmering ponds dotted with, you guessed it, fantasy-like waterlilies.  

Audubon International shines … Sustainable Golf Courses 

Impressively, Audubon International Founder Ronald G. Dodson has ingeniously devised an accreditation path for golf courses to rise to the forefront in conservation, stewardship, sustainability, community pride, outreach and education.

Special guidelines and assistance are available for golf courses seeking recognition as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Participating golf courses must submit plans for energy and water conservation, waste management, wildlife and habitat management, and outreach and education. Sanctuary members apply for recertification every two years.

Fox Hollow and Homestead Golf Courses… pillars of community pride 

Chuck Bellmyer

Two golf course gems, Fox Hollow and Homestead, nestle against the foothills of the majestic Rocky Mountains in Lakewood, Colorado, not far from Denver.

My introduction to Homestead Golf Course came about through an invitation of Golf Course Maintenance Specialist Chuck Bellmyer in June 2008. I inspected and evaluated Homestead as part of its reaccreditation application to Audubon International. I was given a detailed questionnaire that included encouragement to give suggestions as to how the golf course could better meet and demonstrate the criteria required for Audubon International membership. Chuck Bellmyer kindly greeted me at the golf course maintenance complex. 

Horse trails are an example of
multi-use themes at Homestead
and Fox Hollow Gulf Courses.  
I was immediately impressed; the mowers were so perfectly aligned. Very noticeable was the close attention to safety and recycling. As we proceeded, I witnessed the multi use concept. Well-designed trails provided paths for horses, hikers and bicyclists. Signage was abundant, clear and educated visitors about the destruction of floods and need for dams. An accomplished birdwatcher was taking copious notes recording the frequency and kinds of birds visiting the course. 

Buffer zone limits
run-off of fertilizer.
Watering was closely monitored thanks to a computerized irrigation system tied to a modern weather station. Hand-weeders were at work in the roughs. A thick growth of grasses separated the ponds from the fertilized areas, minimizing the chance of fertilizer leaching into the water. Too, I was delighted to see a low maintenance garden and lively container garden near the clubhouse entrance.   

Waterlilies add beauty, style and interest

Chuck was beaming as he led me to a pond of sparkling waterlilies. There I met Joe McBurney, Golf Course Maintenance Specialist of neighboring Fox Hollow Golf Course that exhibits the same quality and commitment to excellence as Homestead Golf Course. I think of the two as sister golf courses.

I first met Joe about ten years ago when he was considering planting waterlilies at Fox Hollow. I directed him to the beautiful prolific waterlilies from Berkeley Lake. Also, I shared my thoughts on how to establish waterlilies at Fox Hollow.

Joe’s dedication was most impressive. He called me a number of times sharing his success and too, his challenges. He built wire cages to thwart ducks and muskrats, and he persisted. He so impressed me; Joe would not be denied! A bundle of good cheer and generosity, he kindly shared the Berkeley Lake waterlilies with his neighbor Chuck Bellmyer at Homestead. 

Joe McBurney

As my tour/evaluation concluded at exquisite Homestead, Joe would not allow me to escape. He insisted I see his Berkeley Lake waterlilies at neighboring Fox Hollow. 

Joe Tomocik admiring N. ‘Mayla’ and
N. ‘Joey Tomocik’ established at
Fox Hollow Golf Course

And the waterlilies blew my mind. One stand of waterlilies now sporting about five hundred flowers in all, reached for about 40 yards (37 meters). And to even bigger shock and pleasant surprise, Joe had naturalized the bright yellow N. ‘Joey Tomocik’ (Strawn) and fuchsia-colored N. ‘Mayla’ (Strawn).

Featuring vibrant waterlilies cradling the immaculate greens and equally impressive fairways, Joe has proudly proclaimed the fourteenth and fifteenth holes as the signature holes at Fox Hollow.

Opportunities galore

Golf courses are undersold in relation to their valuable contributions to horticulture, conservation, sustainability, outreach and education. Audubon International has emerged as a leader in assisting courses to progress and excel in these important areas.

The ease of cultivation, beauty and magic of waterlilies are universal and cannot be denied. All of the most notable golf courses are beckoning and ready to be enhanced… by ponds teaming with sparkling, colorful mesmerizing waterlilies.  

Back at DBG -

Hardy waterlilies…hard to kill!

With unusually warm weather in March, we added water to the Gardens’ pools five weeks earlier than planned. Staff and volunteers had removed the mulch of bagged leaves from the waterlilies and then moved the waterlilies into place. 

Hardy waterlilies are remarkably durable. The combination of a winter low temperature of -19 F (-28 C) degrees and a less-protected wintering area did take a small toll on the waterlilies. Losses were about 5% in one pool and there were no losses in a second more-protected pool. Many waterlilies showed little growth at first glance. A bit of searching uncovered live tissue a bit deeper in the pots. The hardy waterlilies are now back and flowering nicely. 

A long cold dormancy benefits hardy waterlilies and is a major factor for the wonderful displays in Colorado ponds year after year. The snow came after the pools were filled in March and did little if any harm to the waterlilies.

Cold weather and hail

Soon after the tropical waterlilies were planted in late May (a little earlier than usual), we were treated to a serious hailstorm and unseasonably cold temperatures. Several quality nurseries came to the rescue sending us healthy replacement plants that gave us a second chance for a really nice tropical waterlily display.

The improvements and growth of water gardening during the last thirty years have been phenomenal. I continue to gain a reverence for the Water Gardeners International members and supporters. There is reliability there, very high quality and Truly Named plants.

This year I’m growing several healthy Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid' (Nutt) waterlilies from seed. In addition, I have healthy, heavily rooted plants from two WGI Truly Named member nurseries. Victorias are a major attraction in late summer. 


The greenhouses are empty and will be bulldozed within weeks. A contagious excitement continues to grow as we make plans for our new greenhouses and display areas. Moreover, you’ll discover additional water features and displays.

A three-tiered parking lot will open soon and remarkably, our displays are more inspiring than ever. It is truly a new era in the making and I could not be more impressed, the progress is mind-boggling. The Welcoming Garden opened in late July and includes a new water feature.

Denver Botanic Gardens continues to be challenged to appeal to a wider audience. Concerts, weddings, increased educational opportunities and a deeper commitment to conservation and sustainability prevail as we strive to lead and serve the community in new ways. Increased attendance is a testament to the Gardens’ growth and success. 

Looking good

The first waterlily to flower this year is one of the eight Rocky Mountain Legacy (RMLC) waterlilies, Nymphaea ‘Attorney Elrod’ (Tomocik). On most days last summer this tiny rose-colored gem sported eighteen flowers or more.  

< N. 'Attorney Elrod' 


N. ‘James Brydon’

As good as gold is the classical magenta bowl-shaped beauty N. ‘James Brydon’ (Dreer Nurseries). It is now aglow in the Romantic Gardens’ Rocky Mountain Legacy Pool.

Of special interest this summer are the recent winners of the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society waterlily trials competition. Water gardens curator extraordinaire Tamara Kilbane of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens has extended herself in superbly managing the trials and in mailing these special plants to Denver Botanic Gardens. 

Berkeley Lake Waterlilies

Large stands of sparkling pink and white waterlilies evidently planted in the 1940s have naturalized in Berkeley Park, Denver, Colorado. Each summer these special gems reappear providing a special treat for joggers, hikers and bicyclists.

Following a tip from Colorado Water Garden Society leader and Gardens’ volunteer Damon Ginnow, plants were brought to Denver Botanic Gardens in 1996 and evaluated. The waterlilies are exceptional and superb for naturalizing. They are the first waterlilies to establish in our pools each spring. As part of our 2001 annual Fete De Fleur, Gardens’ supporter Carol Purdy named the pink selection Nymphaea ‘Denver’s Delight’. It is one of eight Rocky Mountain Legacy Collection (RMLC) waterlilies featured in our pools each year and is truly superb. The Berkeley Lake waterlilies now thrive at nearby Hudson Gardens, says astute volunteer water gardens manager Bob Hoffman.

See you at poolside (and at the golf course),
Joe T.  

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